What it is–and isn’t–all about

We closed submissions for The Los Angeles Review this week, and now the flurry of contract-gathering, manuscript ordering, proofreading and spreadsheet cross-referencing (not to mention the mad dash to raise funds for our next print run) begins. We’re very proud of Issue 9 (which will come out just in time for AWP, on the heels of Issue 8–you’ll have plenty of LAR to keep you reading throughout this fall and winter).

So as I was getting ready to put LAR away for the day to try to sneak in some writing of my own, I decided to answer one last LAR-related email. I wish I hadn’t.

It was one of those emails I get from time to time, from some writer with a continent-sized chip on her shoulder, demanding to know why we don’t pay our authors huge chunks of change for their hard work. Now let me be clear: I have never gotten an email of this type from a contributor. It’s always some random writer who’s never even submitted work to us–just some angry Tom, Jane, or Suzy on a crusade. This email was even worse than most, because its writer suggested that LAR’s editors–and me, in particular–are pocketing money from sales of the magazine and sales of ad space, and are therefore robbing writers of their due. It would probably be a good idea for me to ignore their nastiness and insinuation, but this time I was just tired and annoyed enough to give her an education.

A short summary of my email back to her: if you’re looking for cash, you’ve picked the wrong world. Literary journals aren’t cash cows. In fact, I don’t know a single editor who hasn’t put money forth from his or her own pocket–to say nothing of countless hours of labor–in order to keep his or her magazine afloat. Do we think writers deserve to be paid? Of course–we look forward to a day when we have the resources to do so. But if you think you’re entitled to funds that would otherwise be spent keeping a magazine in print, you can take your greedy little mammon-worshiping self elsewhere. The last thing we need in the small press world is more people who want to take, take, take without giving back. Taking isn’t what art is all about.

Needless to say, I was in a bit of a bad-taste-in-my-mouth kind of mood when I headed out to Richard Hugo House here in Seattle in order to help out with The Novel, Live! It was jut the thing to turn my mood around.

Novelist Jennie Shortridge and her group, The Seattle 7 Writers, devised one of the most ambitious literary projects I’ve ever seen: 36 novelists are co-writing a book in 6 days in front of a live audience, all to raise funds for Seattle writers in the schools. The novelists take shifts of two hours each, building from one another’s work, with their words appearing live on screen (from now until the end of the event this weekend, you can watch the simulcast here: http://www.thenovellive.org/novel/live/).

My job last night was to keep a synopsis of the work being written in order to help bring the next novelist up to speed on the turns the plot had taken. When I got to the work station, I was surprised to find that the unassuming guy working away on the running synopsis was thriller-writer Robert Dugoni (a New York Times best-selling author). Here’s a guy with serious writing chops. A writer of his standing could be at home, feet up, drink in hand, pontificating about how great he is and how much he deserves to make for his writing. But instead, he was donating his time and considerable talents to help promote literacy in our city.

When I came on to write the synopsis, Robert took the stage (and took off his shoes) and wrote quite an impressive piece under time pressure. Robert laid down over 3,700 words in his 120-mintue time block, and they were damn good. He moved the plot around like he was a long-haul trucker, and he did it with such joy! It wasn’t for his own sake. It wasn’t to get paid. It was for the love of art and of sharing that love with kids in need.

That, folks, is what the writing world is about.


Robert Dugoni, my new writerly hero, working on The Novel Live:


7 Replies to “What it is–and isn’t–all about”

  1. Yay! What an inspiration to be in the volunteering company of such a modern literary great. Sorry you had to get such a nasty note but what a way for it to turn out. Your post is an inspiration to my own work 🙂

  2. I’m glad I could pass the inspiration along, Kevin! It’s great to experience these reminders that there really are lots of great, selfless people in this industry…

  3. Inspirational, yes, but also intimidating, that a writer (by definition a person who usually works alone, in private) can sit down and pound out 3700 words in front of an audience. And shoeless at that. A tip of the literary cap to Mr. Dugoni and to all the writers who planned and produced this event.

  4. I was impressed by that, too, Joe–I’m a persnickety poet who requires almost complete silence in order to concentrate. That anybody can write on a stage with music blasting , happy hour raging, and a live auction taking place is mind-blowing to me.

  5. The Novel Live project is a genius idea. I love that! And there are always those angry writers who have some strange idea that art is all about money. It’s true, if we could pay of course we would! They somehow forget that we’re sitting and reading their work for hours for free. Designing the site and marketing the journal for free. Creating a place for their work to shared with the masses — for free. One ear, out the other.

  6. Lisa Marie–I’ve considered asking the angry ones how many small press titles they’ve purchased in the last month, to bring money into the world they’d like to take money from. What do you want to bet it’d be zero? 😉

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